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In the Pipeline: Bartlett Park a blemish on the city

October 29, 2013|By Chris Epting | This post has been corrected, as noted below.
  • The blue tarp seen here identifies one of several homeless encampments in Bartlett Park.
The blue tarp seen here identifies one of several homeless… (Chris Epting, HB…)

On a balmy, breezy and drizzly morning, Suzanne Messina-Cervellone walked me around Bartlett Park.

The 28-acre park, located just behind the Newland House along Coldwater Lane, is a hilly, rugged and densely overgrown oblong plot that occupies land once owned and farmed by some of Huntington Beach's earliest settlers.

It is where the bodies of two men were discovered in July after an apparent murder-suicide. That event forced yet another examination of the park, which in recent years has become more like an apocalyptic land of the lost.

Elaborate homeless encampments featuring structures made of wood and tarp have become quite common throughout the maze of jungle-like black willow and eucalyptus trees.

I was first contacted by local Mike Cohen, who reinforced a few things I'd been hearing about the park over the years. He and Messina-Cervellone have become point people of sorts, helping to focus attention on and, most importantly, generate action to help reclaim the park so that those in the community can enjoy it.

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The gloominess of the day that Messina-Cervellone and I chose to explore the park (with her dog, Roxy) did nothing to ease the tension one feels when pushing blindly through brush without knowing what waits on the other side.

We reached one wide clearing and Messina-Cervellone, who has an 8-year old son, explained to me that this is where, on Sept. 21, a city-sponsored cleanup crew had helped sweep the area. Today, barely one month later, bags, bottles, cans and other refuse are strewn about.

Nearby, a crude shrine marks the spot where the two bodies were discovered. (As I wrote recently, I find memorials like this interesting and necessary because they help us mark city history.)

In next week's column, I will go into more depth after speaking with officials about what efforts are being taken to try to regain control of the park, a place that finds itself snared in a Catch-22 of conflicting local, county and state — Department of Fish and Wildlife — regulations.

But even as we tramp along the spongy hidden trails, Messina-Cervellone lets me in on a few things. For instance, the squatters and vagrants living throughout the park must be given a three-day notice of evacuation before city officials even come in to clean up. 

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